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Grainer, Ron (1924-1981)


Main image of Grainer, Ron (1924-1981)

Ron Grainer's name may not be widely known, but his television and film music was familiar to millions during the 1960s and '70s, and remains fondly remembered.

Born in Queensland, Australia, Grainer was a child virtuoso on the piano. His musical studies were interrupted by the Second World War, in which he served. He moved to England in 1952 and worked as a touring pianist playing with a variety of musical acts.

By the late 1950s he was a musical adviser to Associated Rediffusion while also playing piano for the BBC. In 1960, the BBC commissioned Grainer to write the theme and incidental music for Maigret (1960-1963), the French detective given a typically Parisian ambience through the use of a clavichord and harpsichord. Warner Bros issued records of Grainer's music for the series, though an alternative recording of the theme made it into the record charts.

A huge variety of television scores followed, including, famously, the theme for Steptoe and Son (BBC, 1962-74). Both the Maigret theme and 'Old Ned', as the Steptoe theme was titled, won Ivor Novello awards. Grainer would later win a third for his musical Robert & Elizabeth

1962 also saw Grainer score feature films, including John Schlesinger's A Kind of Loving, having scored the same director's British Transport Film Terminus the previous year. Around the same time he provided the theme for the groundbreaking satirical review That Was the Week That Was (BBC, 1962-63).

In 1963 Grainer collaborated with the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop to produce the unusual and much admired music for the documentary Giants of Steam. Later that year he composed what remains his most instantly recognisable work: the theme tune for Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89, 2005-). Asked for something "familiar but different" he composed a simple tune which was then realised by Delia Derbyshire of the Radiophonic Workshop. There have been subsequent arrangements, but Grainer's theme still accompanies the series today, over forty years later.

Numerous television and film scores in the following years included those for Richard Lester's comedy The Mouse on the Moon (1963) and the BBC's That Was the Week That Was sequel, Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life (1964-65).

After spending time in the mid 1960s writing for the theatre, Grainer returned to television, providing memorable themes for cult ITC series Man in a Suitcase (1967-68) and The Prisoner (1967-68). BBC commissions included detective series Paul Temple (1969-71) and anthology strand The Jazz Age (1968), for which Grainer provided an appropriately 1920s-style theme.

An eye condition led to a move to Portugal, to take advantage of the light. His work rate slowed for a time, but picked up again in the late 1970s, with television commissions including themes for long-running ITV series Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88) and Shelley (1979-91). Grainer's last work was the score for LWT's 'The Business of Murder' (Sunday Night Thriller, 1981), which was transmitted within days of his premature death from cancer.

Oliver Wake

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Home-Made Car, The (1963)Home-Made Car, The (1963)

Wordless sponsored short in which a man builds a car from spare parts

Thumbnail image of Kind of Loving, A (1962)Kind of Loving, A (1962)

New Wave film about a man torn between desire and responsibility

Thumbnail image of Terminus (1961)Terminus (1961)

Celebrated study of 24 hours in the life of Waterloo Station

Thumbnail image of Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)

Memorably gritty ITC series about an ex-CIA private investigator

Thumbnail image of Prisoner, The (1967-68)Prisoner, The (1967-68)

Surreal kitsch meets psychedelia in the definitive cult TV classic

Thumbnail image of Steptoe and Son (1962-74)Steptoe and Son (1962-74)

Galton & Simpson classic about father-and-son rag-and-bone men

Thumbnail image of Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)

Ironic stories of menace and the macabre with a sting in the tail

Thumbnail image of That Was the Week That Was (1962-63)That Was the Week That Was (1962-63)

Groundbreaking and controversial BBC satirical programme

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